Appalachian students explore social issues during Alternative Service Experience

Forget beach parties. Appalachian State University students find something more meaningful as an alternative to the traditional spring break.

Appalachian’s Alternative Service Experience (ASE) program sent out 25 domestic and international service trips over spring break, March 9–13, to explore a variety of social issues while working with communities across the globe. This year, nearly 300 students embarked on journeys that took them as far north as New York City and as far south as Costa Rica.

As a part of the "alternative" experience, students in the programs consumed a vegetarian diet and monitored the programs' carbon footprints in an effort to have as little of an environmental impact as possible. Once all of the service trips for the year are complete, the total amount of accumulated carbon is calculated and then offset during a fall retreat consisting of the next year’s Peer Leaders.

The various social justice issues that students worked with this year included, but were not limited to:

  • animal rights
  • environmental conservation
  • poverty
  • homelessness

“This exposure to communities and the social issues those communities face highlights the need for community involvement,” said Heather Jo Mashburn, assistant director of community service for Alternative Service Experience. “They (ASEs) oftentimes push students to become involved in their local communities upon return.”

The programs are led by two undergraduate peer leaders and one faculty or staff learning partner. Although there is a full-time Appalachian employee actively involved with each ASE, the planning of the entire program falls on the peer leaders. It is their responsibility to create a meaningful and educational experience for the participants so that everyone on the program is able to take what they learned on the ASE, and apply it to their everyday lives at Appalachian.

ASEs are organized by the university’s Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) Office. In addition to the long-term programs, ACT and ASE have recently created ASE Local, which consists of daylong service opportunities that focus on local communities and issues. There were 35 programs offered during the 2014-2015 academic year that totaled more than 9,840 working hours dedicated to ASE.

“ASE has given me the opportunity to interact with many different communities not only around the country but also around the world,” said senior Melissa Lee, peer leader and president of ACT’s impACT Team. “I have learned so much about different cultures and communities that are different from my own, and it has really given me a different perspective on the world in which we live.”

This past spring break, Lee completed her sixth and final ASE program in Granada, Nicaragua.

  • Alternative Service Experience 2015: Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Birmingham, Alabama

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      Senior Sara Chico and senior Sana Chaudhri work on the satellite learning farm at Glen Iris Elementary School in preparation for a tour for the Newman’s Own Foundation.

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      Appalachian students spent time weeding the planting rows. With this and other chores, the students saved the farm 400 hours of labor and helped to meet planting deadlines.

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      Freshman McClory Sheppe waters newly planted flowers on the playground at Glenn Iris Elementary.

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      Freshman Katie Trimble takes a break from painting fence posts to spend time laughing and telling stories with the elementary students.

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      Winter straw is removed from the planting beds in preparation for spring planting.

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      Students work on planting beds in the shadows of the Birmingham Alabama skyline.

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    In 2015, a group of Appalachian students traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to volunteer their time at Jones Valley Teaching Farm.